During Jordan Crawford‘s brief run as the Boston Celtics’ point guard, coach Brad Stevens could repeat one mantra, no matter how maddening Crawford’s decision-making would get.
“He’s not afraid of the moment,” Stevens said of Crawford more than once over the first two months of the season. And he was right.
For all his ill-advised shots and inexplicable passes on simple plays, Crawford never shied away when a big shot needed to be made, to a fault. He would often dribble down the clock to create a more difficult situation and poorer look, but he always wanted to take the big shot.
The Celtics could have used some assertiveness like that Sunday. With 10 seconds left and Boston trailing by two, Jeff Green and Avery Bradley passed up reasonable looks as the Celtics never got off a shot on the final play. The 93-91 defeat to the Orlando Magic was the Celtics’ 14th in 16 games, dropping them into last place in the Atlantic Division in the loss column.
A loss is a loss, but the least a team can do is give itself a chance at the end. The Celtics didn’t.
Stevens said afterward that Bradley lost the handle on the ball, which is fine, but it was tough to justify Green passing up a relatively open 3-pointer on the right wing, then a chance at a 15-foot pull-up jump shot along the baseline, on the final possession. Green proceeded to dribble into trouble before kicking the ball out to Bradley, who didn’t look prepared for the pass. Bradley fumbled the ball, dribbled into trouble and then attempted a jump pass to nobody in particular as the clock expired.
It was an unfortunate way to finish the game because the Celtics (14-28) actually showed a slight improvement in their late-game execution from Friday, when they collapsed down the stretch against the Los Angeles Lakers. Rajon Rondo hit a clutch jumper off a pass from Green with more than a minute to go and Gerald Wallace hooked up with Green on a side-out for a layup to tie the game with 33 seconds remaining. The Celtics dutifully kept feeding Green, who had a size advantage against Tobias Harris and Arron Afflalo of the Magic (11-30), in the final minutes. That led to a parade to the foul line for Green, who was 13 for 15 from the stripe in the game.
Still, the final play dominated the questions Stevens fielded after the game, which is only natural. After every close game, few people remember all the plays that lead up to the big moment. Everyone remembers the last shot — or lack thereof.
Real talk: The Magic are pretty terrible. That doesn’t say much for the Celtics losing to them, of course, but it also shouldn’t keep Afflalo from getting some deserved All-Star Game consideration.
Despite playing for a squad that would just as soon make a stop in Lotteryville as make a realistic bid for a winning streak, Afflalo has played All-Star caliber ball all season. He entered the game averaging 20.9 points per game with an 18.9 player efficiency rating, and helped his case with 20 points, 13 rebounds and six assists against the Celtics.
There’s a difference between putting up All-Star numbers and playing All-Star ball, though. Average players often put up big numbers on bad teams and don’t warrant special attention. But Afflalo hasn’t been some unrestrained gunner. He’s shooting nearly 50 percent on twos and 42 percent on threes, with a turnover percentage of 10.9 percent, which is low for a guard. He sought out teammate Jameer Nelson after failing to hook up with him on a pass that should have netted Nelson a layup. Positive body language like that is rare for a star-level player in a losing situation.
Even on a bad team, Afflalo, a seven-year veteran and the Magic’s second-highest paid player, hasn’t flown off the handle. That’s worth some extra All-Star points, too.